A fog of uncertainty

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

The Iowa coronavirus testing mavens must have hit the links with President Trump over the weekend rather than doing their work during a crisis that has shut down our economy, killed nearly 500 Iowans, and left the residents of Buena Vista County living in a fog of uncertainty and confusion.

Ten weeks after Gov. Reynolds told us to stay home, except for critical employees like meatpacking workers, we still don’t know actually how many people have tested positive in a community with more than 3,000 food processing employees. Nine days after full-scale testing started, as of Monday we had no idea how many total cases there were. We heard reports from doctors that the pace was quickening at the hospital. The hospital said that this is “real” but offered little more information. Is Sioux City full? Where do the seriously ill go? Why are helicopters flying out of Storm Lake?

What is going on?

We don’t know. It is outrageous. It is stunning that in this day and age, more than two months into this pandemic, we do not know how many people are stricken. We have half a picture.

State authorities told us that we could find out from the Iowa Department of Public Health COVID-19 website Monday at 6 a.m. how many positive results arose from testing over the past nine days. The site reported 242 positive cases at 6:30 a.m., with slightly more than 1,700 tests. They were 57% Caucasian, not Hispanic. Testing done on behalf of Tyson Foods by an outside contractor has not been incorporated into the state results.

In Perry, a similar period of testing yielded 730 positive tests in the plant. The counts are higher in every packing town. In Denison there were nearly 500 positive cases recorded during a similar testing stream. Storm Lake has a bigger critical employee force than either Perry or Denison. Further, Storm Lake tested positive at about half the rate of Denison or Sioux City. Buena Vista County’s number of positive cases should have been reported at more than 500 if all workers were included. Iowa should not be so desperate as to depend on Tyson for half our testing. The state should have done it, on time. We do not know when full results will be compiled and released, if ever.

The meager and vague reports we have are confusing and dispiriting, especially considering that the governor blew $26 million on a no-bid contract with a Utah company that has not acted in a timely manner and has not met state goals of 3,000 tests per day. We should have everyone in Storm Lake tested by now. Senegal has a higher testing rate than we do.

It is clear that the reported rate and the crush of patients at the hospital shows that we are on the upward slope to a peak of unknown height. If we had better testing we might know when that peak will arrive. If we had better reporting from public authorities spending our money, we could all have more confidence in our own personal well-being. They think that they own the information, not the public. That’s what gives it that dark Belarusian or Slovenian feel. The powers that control our lives don’t believe that full and prompt information serves their interests, which is to fool us into thinking that they actually know the score and that everything is under control.

Just go ahead and play baseball. Huff and puff toward home while the 15-year-old catcher waits for a cloud of dust and sweat and that final puff out suspended right up into the catcher’s nose. After the half-inning, the catcher and pitcher will consult on the dugout bench. No problems, just keep the ball low and away and we might live through this thing. Full-contact football is just around the corner with no treatment, vaccine or comprehensive testing/tracing.

We appear to be willing to let the government pull the wool over our eyes with incomplete and late testing, a widely infected workforce ordered into potentially unsafe conditions, and accountability that would satisfy the unconscious. If you want a test and the website won’t let you have one as has been repeatedly reported, the governor says just try again. Go to church, play your games, go to the bar and sing karaoke. Maybe even work in 18 holes with the gang. The test can wait.

THERE IS SOME good news to come out of this:

All Methodist Manor residents tested negative for coronavirus. Along with food processing, nursing homes are the hottest spots for the deadly disease. Six employees did test positive and have been quarantined. Tight protocols were put in place immediately on notice of the pandemic. Full protective gear was put into use. Employees say they feel confident in the measures that management has taken to protect everyone. Congratulations on doing it right.

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